• Chef Jason Santos

Celebrity Chef Turns Marblehead Gas Station Lot Into B & B Fish

Boston-based chef Jason Santos is set to open the upscale takeout seafood spot on Pleasant Street on Nov. 2.

By Scott Souza, Patch Staff

MARBLEHEAD, MA — Jason Santos was not exactly used to downtime.

As the owner of three successful Boston restaurants — including his beloved New Orleans-themed Buttermilk & Bourbon on Commonwealth Avenue — an author and television culinary expert on shows such as "Bar Rescue" and "Hell's Kitchen" he was always on the move in and out of a kitchen or dining room all hours of the day nearly every day of the week.

Then came the March restaurant shutdowns due to the coronavirus health crisis, and suddenly Santos had no place to go as his restaurants were closed and the future of his business was in doubt. At first, he said he paid his management staff for a month at the three Boston locations. But when the original three-week shutdown took on more of an indefinite feel, he laid off all his employees — including himself.

"I had a lot of time to think," Santos told Patch. "To rethink my business, the trajectory of my business, and how everything is going to work out. I never left the house at first. I was one of those people who ordered everything off Amazon and went out in a beekeeper's suit to get what was left for me in the driveway."

He said it was sometime in April when he decided he and his wife needed to get out in the world for really the first time since the onset of the pandemic. They went for a drive from their Woburn home to the seashore and wound up in Marblehead where they drove by an old, empty gas station on Pleasant Street.

Santos had an idea. A week later, he said, he signed a lease to open what would seven months later would become B & B Fish.

"This was a full-blown, spontaneous, drive-by, dead-of-COVID decision," he said. "Some people say it's the craziest decision they've ever heard."

In the months that followed, his Boston restaurants recovered to the point where he was able to hire back 90 percent of previous staff — virtually everyone who wanted to return — as he turned his attention to a new restaurant that he calls the "causal sister" of Buttermilk & Bourbon.

B & B Fish is set to open Nov. 2 as the chef's first venture outside of Boston where he said he knows the landscape will be quite a bit different.

"Marblehead is a very tight-knit community," he determined. "Boston is slightly more transient where people come and go and you have different crowds. In Marblehead, they either like you or they don't."

Santos said he is hoping it will be the former for B & B Fish as it becomes part of the town's fabric as it comes back to life from a pandemic.

"We plan to be very involved in the community," he said. "We haven't made a dollar there yet. But when we do, we will be involved in everything."

He said customers can expect a high-end takeout experience with patio seating in back that can seat up to 40 people, and Santos putting his touch on traditional summer favorites. "It is like a British fish & chips place meets a New England clam shack," he said. "I have eaten my weight, and then some, in clams in the area and the one thing I've found is they all taste the same and are under-seasoned. We are looking to bring (a clam plate) that is more creative and more flavorful."

He said that while the management team is being promoted from his Boston restaurants he is hiring locally for many of the positions.

"We just hired a Marblehead girl from the high school," he said. "The good thing about a place like this is you don't have to come in with an extensive wine knowledge and 20 years of experience."

He even had a garage door installed as an homage to the former gas station site, which will allow B & B Fish to have an open-air concept starting next spring.

"This is something that if it works well, I would consider doing more in the area," he said.

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